Emotional scars for those impacted by Jan. 21 tornado
Jul. 30, 2017
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The scars may not be visible, but the wounds suffered from the Jan. 21 tornado still run deep for those who were impacted.
Trey Sullivan, Linda Richardson and Martin Rich lost their homes. Hal Cox lost his wife. Rosa Perkins lost her husband and grandson as well as her home.
In the six months since the tornado, these five, like many others, have grappled with their loss. They fought their way out, winning some battles along the way and losing others. And their recovery continues.
These are their stories.
In the six months since the home on Crestwood Drive where the Cox family lived was heavily damaged by the EF3 tornado, Hal Cox has had time to reflect on what has happened.
But he still is re-evaluating the direction of his life — without Simona, his beloved wife of more than 20 years, who died during the tornado when the walls of the couple's home fell on top of them. She was 72.
"I've had to readjust my life," he said. "I'm grateful to be able to continue and reorient myself."
After months of living in temporary housing, Cox decided to return to his home, but isn't sure the move is permanent.
"I'm still weighing some options of where I go from here," he said.
"I'm sure the Lord has a purpose for my life, and I just want to go through life with that in mind."
Even though Cox, 76, survived the tornado, he was badly injured. He has been in and out of the hospital, trying to regain his health.
"I guess I was injured more than I thought I was," he said.
He said progress is slow and he is not yet at 100 percent, but he is able to do things he wasn't able to a few months ago.
"I'm feeling better," he said. "But I'm still not totally normal."
His son, George, who lives in Panama City Beach, Florida, comes to visit his father as often as he can, but has a job there, so the visits are not as frequent as either would like.
Despite losing his wife in the tornado, Cox looks on the bright side and believes God will show him the way.
"It's an opportunity to trust (God) more and grow in my knowledge, love and relationship with him and see where he leads me," Cox said.
"I miss my wife, but I accept it. I'm not in despair. I know that ultimately the Lord's will will be done. And I rest in that."
Rosa Perkins held her husband, Earnest Perkins, 58, as he lay dying beside her. The mobile home off Edwards Street in which they lived was destroyed by the tornado. Their friend David "Wayne" McCoy, 47, was asleep in another room of the Perkins' house. He too was killed, leaving Perkins the sole survivor.
A short distance from their home, Perkins' grandson — Cleveland Madison, 20 — was killed while he slept in a mobile home at South Tipton Street and Alcorn Avenue.
"I've had my ups and downs," Perkins said. "For a while I couldn't go up Edwards Street. My nerves were all jittery."
Perkins has returned to work, but switched to working nights because she has trouble sleeping. Working helps her cope with her loss.
"I wasn't sleeping and I wasn't eating, so I figure I might as well work at night and then somebody else take day shift," she said. "It works out pretty good."
She now lives next door to her daughter and around the corner from one of Earnest's sons. Although she is comforted by having family nearby, stormy weather brings back too many memories.
"When it starts raining, I panic," she said. "If it's a loud boom or thunder, I'd be looking for a place to hide.
"And if they say 'tornado,' I've got me a bag ready to go."
Despite what she is going through, Perkins tries to stay positive and allow the healing power of time to work its magic.
"I'm better," she said. "I'm so much better. I can even talk about the storm."
Trey Sullivan and his family have settled into their new home, comfortable with the new life they are building after their home was destroyed by the tornado.
The family had a couple temporary homes before landing at its current residence on Park Avenue.
Sullivan, 28, and his two children, Serenity, 9, and Payton, 7, have been at the home a few months, and Sullivan is working on purchasing the home to give his children a little more stability.
They've made new friends and caught up with old ones. They lost almost everything in the tornado, but are restocking their home with new toys, new clothing, new appliances— all the things a family needs to feel at home.
Although he and his children were not at their Claiborne Avenue home when the tornado hit, Sullivan said the impact can still be felt.
"I think my kids deal with more issues now," he said.
One of the biggest issues Sullivan is dealing with is his daughter's new fear of storms.
"Every time we have rain — and you know Hattiesburg, it's always raining — if she's not with me, as soon as the weather hits she's going to call me," he said.
When he can't be there to comfort his daughter, she worries about her father. She calls to make sure he isn't alone during a storm.
"My kids are very scared of bad weather now," Sullivan said.
He and his children miss their old home and neighbors. They miss the quiet streets where the children could play outside with their friends.
Sullivan is hesitant to take his children around the tornado-damaged areas for fear it may affect them even more.
But they are adapting and looking on the bright side.
Their new home is conveniently located — close to downtown, where Sullivan runs Jazmo's Bodega on Main Street, and the children's school.
Even though it's on a busier street, the new house is larger and has a yard where the children can play.
"I'm blessed in that fashion," he said. "I guess that's the positive thing that came out of the storm."
Although the bulk of tornado damage was in Hattiesburg and Petal, Lamar County had its share.
Linda Richardson and her husband, Bobby, three years ago built their home on Green Timber Loop.
Their home was so badly damaged, it would have cost more to fix it than it would to replace it. The failing structure was demolished over the Fourth of July weekend.
"It's an empty spot there, but we've made a lot of progress," Richardson said. "We loved our home. Bobby and I built that ourselves, so to see it demolished — it was hard.
"And, yes, we are very thankful that everybody is OK and I thank God for that, but also your heart is broken and you're so overwhelmed."
The couple now lives in the house next door, but that home is still being worked on after the tornado.
Although losing their home was traumatic, it was dealing with the insurance company that was the worst part of recovery for the Richardsons.
"We had full replacement insurance all these years, yet had to fight them," Richardson said. "It took all these months, challenging them, coming up with our own bids and all that (before an acceptable figure was reached)."
Richardson said she had to get her own estimates and documentation of the damage and meet with officials from the insurance company to refute what the engineer put in his report.
Eventually, the insurance company agreed to total the home and give the Richardsons the replacement value.
"I cannot tell you the emotional struggle that we went through," Richardson said. "Bobby and I never experienced anything like that."
Despite all they've been through, Richardson said she and her husband are focusing on the positive.
"We're moving on," she said. "We've got this behind us. It was hard emotionally, but we learned so much. We're thankful we have our lives and we have each other."
When the tornado tore through Petal the morning of the storm, Martin Rich, 39, was asleep on the couch. The rumbling of the approaching storm woke him, and he ran to the door to see what was happening.
The force of the winds ripped him out of his home, flinging him into the home next door. His neighbor Angela Brown found him in her laundry room when she went to look for flashlights.
Her husband, Ashley Brown, raced Rich to the hospital, dodging debris and fallen trees. The Rich home was destroyed as were most of the family's belongings.
Rich was severely injured, but he is getting back on his feet. As service manager at a car dealership, Rich's job involved a lot of walking. Although he was able to go back to work after two weeks, he was limited to doing what he could while sitting at a desk. The healing process continues, but Rich has learned some of the damage may be permanent.
Rich and his wife, Ashley, were able to stay at a church member's cottage for a few months and then moved to a downtown apartment. Now they need to decide where they will go next while they wait for their home to be rebuilt.
The couple has had to contend with an insurance nightmare. They still don't know whether some things are covered because they haven't been able to get a copy of their policy.
Rich said he hasn't been able to get clear answers from the insurance company and discovered only after the tornado that their policy was inadequate.
They just recently were able to begin rebuilding and hope their new home is finished by the January date given by the contractor — around the anniversary of the tornado.
The Riches also learned they are expecting a son around the same time.
"It's a weird anniversary," Rich said.
Despite the hardships the tornado has brought, Rich said he and his wife are grateful for what they have.
"We came out more fortunate than most people did," Rich said. "That's what I keep telling myself. We're trying to look on the bright side."
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com